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"Normal" by Graeme Cameron is about an unnamed serial killer who likes to keep women locked up in a cage in his basement. He's playing a dangerous game with the local police, who have him on their radar after the disappearance of a prostitute leads them to him. The killer has also fallen in love, of sorts, with a girl named Rachel. At one point I thought I had the twist figured out: that Rachel would be a serial killer and be trapping *him* but I was wrong (and disappointed, that would have made for an excellent book!). The killer also has a young woman named Erica locked up in his cage, and because of his distraction with Rachel it's causing him to do stupid things with Erica. The book lost a little bit of believability for me at the point when Erica had a chance to escape and instead came back to him, because living with a guy who keeps you locked up in a cage is better than living with your stepfather. It was still a good story and I liked the ending.

The final volume of Jeff Lindsay's highly entertaining Dexter Morgan series did not disappoint, unlike the ending of the TV show. Jeesh. Anyway, poor maligned Dexter is in jail, accused of a crime he didn't commit: the murder of actor Robert Chase. Detective Anderson is determined to nail Dexter for the crime, going to great lengths to frame him. Even Dexter's sister Deborah thinks he's guilty. Luckily his biological brother Brian comes to his rescue and hires a high powered attorney to represent Dexter. Dexter is suspicious of Brian's motives, and soon learns why he's being so generous: he stole a great deal of money from a drug lord named Raul, who is sending hit men after him. Brian wants Dexter's help in getting rid of these killers. Dexter keeps being mistaken for Brian and has a couple of close escapes before Raul kidnaps his and Deborah's kids. Desperate to get them back, Deborah agrees to team up with Dexter and Brian and goes on the hunt for Raul and the kids. The ending was highly satisfying, although I will be sad to see Dexter go, he was always so much fun to read about.

I wasn't really into Sara Shepard's "Good Girls", the sequel to "The Perfectionists", until about 2/3 of the way through when she tossed a wicked good twist in there. One by one, the people the girls wished were dead in film studies class are turning up murdered. They don't know if someone overheard their discussion and is killing people off for them, or, even worse, if one of them is the killer. Julie is worried for her friend, Parker, who is getting more and more uncommunicative. After being missing for several days, Julie finally tracks Parker down, and Parker confesses to the crimes. Julie promises to protect her best friend. The other girls confront Julie at a Halloween party, convinced she's the killer, and Julie tearfully breaks down and admits it's Parker. The other girls are horrified: Parker's been dead for over a year. Julie refuses to believe it, and is arrested, sent to a mental hospital for treatment, but she escapes. All right! Now we're getting somewhere :)

I, Fatty

This was a great fictionalized account of the poor maligned Roscoe Arbuckle, silent film star of the early days of Hollywood who was falsely accused of raping and murdering a girl named Virginia Rappe. Roscoe endured three trials, the first two ending in hung juries, before finally being acquitted in the third one. Unfortunately the damage to his reputation was done, and while Roscoe tried hard to get back into Tinseltown's good graces, he didn't have powerful enough friends to do so. It was a great story, well told by author Jerry Stahl.

Atticus Lish won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award for "Preparation for the Next Life", and it was well deserved. He reminded me a bit of Faulkner (high praise indeed, coming from me). Brad Skinner is a young vet recently back from Iraq. He is suffering from PTSD, but he's slipped through the cracks and is now wandering around New York, unsure of what to do with himself, when he meets Zou Lei. Zou Lei is in America illegally and after having been arrested once she's not eager to repeat the experience. Improbable though it is, the two start a relationship of sorts and even discuss marriage so Zou Lei can be a citizen.
Meanwhile, Skinner's landlady's son, Jimmy, is home after spending time in prison. Jimmy is an instigator and a troublemaker, and knows how to push all of Skinner's buttons. Their stories collide in a terrible way with devastating consequences. Finely written, I enjoyed it.

I started watching Wayward Pines on TV, and noticed that hey, it's based on a series of books, so of course I had to read them. The first one, "Pines", will be familiar if you're up to date with the show: Secret Agent Ethan Burke wakes up after a car accident in a remote Idaho town called Wayward Pines. Something about the town is very off, Ethan senses right away. He spends a few days evading authorities who are less helpful than they should be and discovers there's an electrified fence surrounding the town with no way out. He manages to scale the fence and is attacked on the other side by a creature he has no name for. He manages to fight it off and kill it, and stays alive long enough for David Pilcher to rescue him. Pilcher is the scientist responsible for the town, and he tells Ethan the truth: Wayward Pines is the last town of surviving humans on earth. Back in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Pilcher sunk people into suspended animation and woke them up 2,000 years later. Aberrations, known as Abbies, roam the earth now, dangerous and fierce predators. Pilcher asks Ethan's help in keeping the town safe.

Blake Crouch's second book picks up where the first left off: Ethan is the new sheriff of Wayward Pines, and he's home with his wife and son. Pilcher asks Ethan to investigate a dangerous faction of residents who want to bring down the fence and escape. Ethan knows how dangerous it is beyond the fence. He wants to tell people the truth, but Pilcher insists that they can't handle it, they're too fragile. Ethan disagrees and takes a risky gamble in order to expose Pilcher. Will it backfire? I guess we'll see!

Robert Kirkman's latest Walking Dead, Vol 23 "Whispers Into Screams" was pretty good. Carl is settling in on Maggie's side of town when they capture a young girl who is part of the group of people who call themselves the Whisperers: they walk among the dead in zombie skins. Carl gets to know Lydia while he's cooling his heels in their makeshift jail, locked up for going a bit overboard and almost beating two guys to death who were hurting Sophia. He convinces Maggie to let Lydia out, saying she's harmless, and Maggie does. Carl spends the day with Lydia, and like a typical teenage boy assumes he's in love with her. Lydia's mom comes to get her and Maggie trades Lydia for the prisoners the Whisperers have, much to Carl's chagrin. When Sophia goes looking for him later, he's vanished, gone off to rescue Lydia.

Red Notice

I was a bit worried that this book might be too difficult, since it deals with areas of finance and politics that are admittedly way over my head, but Browder did an excellent job of keeping it understandable for the lay person who has never dealt in the heady world of high finance. In the early 90s, Browder took advantage of the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and moved to Russia to cash in on their move toward capitalism. Browder admits he thought he was immune from Russia's rampant corruption since he was a foreigner, but when he tangles with the wrong powerful oligarch his job and his life is in danger. Luckily he is able to escape but unfortunately his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, wasn't so lucky. Sergei was imprisoned, tortured, beaten, and killed, and the powers that be brazenly covered it up with lies, going so far as to blame Browder for his friend's murder. Since Sergei's death, he's fought for justice for Sergei. It was a powerful and moving story, well told.

I enjoyed the heck out of S.K.'s latest, "Finders Keepers", a sequel to "Mr. Mercedes". Back in the 1970s, Morris Bellamy is entranced with an author named John Rothstein, who stopped publishing abruptly after having his signature character, Jimmy Gold, sell out. Morris goes to Mr. Rothstein's house, robs him off his unpublished manuscripts and some cash, and kills him. He takes the notebooks back home, intending to read them and someday sell them and make a fortune, but before he can he's arrested for an unrelated crime and sentenced to prison. Many, many years in prison. He buried a trunk with the money and the notebooks before he goes away and intends to dig it up once he finally gets out.
In the intervening years, a boy named Pete happens across the trunk. The money is a lifesaver: his dad was seriously injured when some idiot in a Mercedes mowed down an innocent group of people waiting in line at a job fair, and his family is in danger of falling apart. Pete's a smart boy, and he reads the manuscripts and realizes what a treasure he has.
Meanwhile, Morris has gotten out of prison and goes back to his hometown to retrieve what's rightfully his, only to discover someone's beaten him to it. It was tense and suspenseful and great, I really enjoyed it.

I also really liked Diane Chamberlain's "Silent Sister". Riley has grown up believing her seventeen year old sister, Lisa, committed suicide back when Riley was just a baby. When her father unexpectedly dies, Riley returns home to pack up his things and take care of his estate, and starts discovering the truth: Lisa was going on trial for killing her violin teacher when she disappeared, her body never to be found. The more Riley pokes around, the more it seems like Lisa didn't really kill herself. I saw the big surprise twist coming a mile away, which always delights me because it happens so rarely, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of getting to it any.

I love Jenny Han. I wish she would have been around when I was a teen, I would have *adored* this book. As it is, even as an adult of advanced age, I still enjoyed it. The sequel to "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" finds Lara Jean dating her dream crush, Peter. Peter still seems pretty caught up on his ex, Genevieve, though, Lara Jean keeps catching them embracing and texting. Peter swears it's all innocent, and Lara Jean wants desperately to believe him. Meanwhile, her last letter that Kitty sent off to John finally gets delivered and John writes back. They start writing to each other and John comes back for a visit, surprised that Lara Jean and Peter are dating. Lara Jean and John start growing closer as they spend more time with each other, since they have a lot in common and Peter seems so distant with Genevieve. It was such a great, touching, honest portrayal of teenage love, how absolutely final and tragic it all seems sometimes. She has a great way with characters, they seem quite real.

And finishing off this round of excellent books: pure trashy fluff. Enjoyable, but not nearly as good as the others. "Secret Brother" is the story of how Cory Dollanganger came to live with the Arnold family: young Willie was struck and killed by a drunk driver, and while in the ER Willie's grandfather, William Arnold, discovers a young boy of similar age as his dead grandson has been dropped off, showing signs of arsenic poisoning. No one knows who the boy belongs to, detectives are trying to hunt down the boy's family with no luck. Rich and powerful, William brings the young boy home and installs him in his dead grandson's room, much to the chagrin of his granddaughter and Willie's older sister, Clara Sue. At first Clara Sue tries to ignore the boy, but that just puts her on her granddad's shitlist. So then she tries to win his trust so she can figure out who he is and send him home. There were quite a few things that bothered me about this book, for instance, even though it's supposed to take place in the 1960s ("Flowers in the Attic" was vague on dates), at one point one of the characters fist bumps the other. Um, huh? At least they weren't all running around on cell phones...

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